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Raw Deal 

Innovative and healthy use of fresh, living foods

Flipping around the channels during the predawn hours I heard these words from Jay Korich, the bushy eyebrowed Juiceman, "Health or disease, life or premature death. It's in your hands." Then Korich pops some slices of watermelon, rind, seeds, and all, into his Juiceman II to render a red liquid, which he offers to members of the audience.

Smoothies and juicers are nothing new. They emerged in force during the 1980s, primarily on the West Coast, in answer to the need for the new trinity in food sales: health, value, and convenience. However, what is new is the growing popularity of the Raw Food Diet.

The Raw Food Diet, or Living Food Movement as it is sometimes known, has even been labeled a new trend by some food writers. But in an era where trends seem to come and go quickly, what is the difference between interest and trend? How long did the Pacific Rim trend last? A year or two? Or the Nuevo Latino trend? These both seem more like hiccups than trends.

But when chef superstar Charlie Trotter writes a book about the Raw Food Diet with 200 recipes, you know this must be more than a hiccup. In June at the annual Food & Wine magazine event in Aspen, Trotter will speak on the Raw and Living Food Diet. In his Chicago restaurant, Trotter has stressed the innovative use of healthful fresh food by offering such dishes as "Okra cured in sea salt with Thai squash and pear sauce" and Jicama packages filled with preserved eggplants, broccoli rabbi flowers and tiny kohlrabi.

Recently the Raw Food Movement has gone beyond crudit?s, salads, smoothies, herbal shooters, and juice bar elixirs. Restaurants featuring dishes prepared by trained chefs are opening across the country. One such restaurant is Roxanne's in Larkspur, CA. Chef Roxanne Klein, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, is collaborating with Charlie Trotter on his Raw Food cookbook, er rawbook, due out next year from Ten Speed Press. Klein serves only raw, vegan, and organic food in her restaurant. Her advertising proclaims "now serving the community at the intersection of sensual flavors, healthy lifestyle, and ecological sustainibility."

At Roxanne's, Klein makes udon noodles from young coconut meat and sour cream from cashews and coconuts. Her lasagna has paper-thin slices of zucchini, layered with mushrooms, garlic, marinated baby spinach and corn, and cashew cheese. The marinara is made from sun-dried roma tomatoes, herbs and spices. The dish is served at room temperature on a warm plate dotted with herb oil essence.

Thomas Keller, another eminent American chef and owner of the French Laundry near Napa, CA sculpts gnocchi out of avocados. Quintessence, a raw food restaurant in New York, sells a "Sun Burger" made from sunflowers and flax seeds.

The reason to go raw lies in the belief that when foods, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, are exposed to temperatures from 105 degrees Fahrenheit to 118 degrees, their enzymes become deactivated. The thinking behind the movement is that it is better to consume foods with the enzymes intact since human enzymes stores are finite. Thus advocates of the raw diet believe that consuming raw foods is an effective measure to preserve human enzymes and thus our health. Lack of heat is the key to the Raw Food Diet. Trotter serves his Raw Food dishes at room temperature.

If you think that carrot sushi roll you've been eating fits the bill, think again. The rice in that roll is steamed. How do living food restaurants prepare rice? Some soak the rice for as long as 30 days until it becomes soft and palpable.

To follow the Raw Food Diet, you say good-bye to prepared foods, canned foods, frozen foods, the microwave, the stove, and the oven. In their place comes the dehydrator, food processor, and a juicer. Wine is okay, because it is never heated, but beer has to go since the hops are boiled, and many other alcoholic beverages are unacceptable since the ingredients are distilled.

Raw food advocates obtain most of their calories from monounsaturated fats such as avocado, uncooked coconut, olive and flax oils. Protein and minerals come from such foods as leafy greens, spirulina, bee pollen, seeds, and nuts. However, food safety experts have raised caution about consuming raw foods since salmonella and cyclospora have been found on fresh produce.

David Wolfe is one of the leading authorities on the Raw Food Diet. He's the author of The Sunfood Diet Success System: 36 Lessons in Health Transformation (Maul Brothers Publishing, $29.95), the recently released Eating for Beauty (Maul Brothers Publishing, $24,95), and co-author of Nature' First Law: The Raw Food Diet (Maul Brothers Publishing, $14.94, paperback).

Wolfe estimates that at least 1 million Americans participate in some aspect of the raw food diet. How many of these are Charlotteans? Are many Charlotteans following the Living Food Diet? I called several area restaurants to see whether there had been an increase in the request for "living" foods.

The folks at Kelly's Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant, told me that aside from salads, the emphasis at Kelly's is not on raw foods and they haven't had requests.

Chef Bruce Moffett, owner of Barrington's Restaurant, has not had any requests for raw foods other than salads that are always on the menu. He observed, "Charlotte is a big meat and potatoes town. They even want their fish well done, extra well done." Tim Groody, chef of Sonoma Bistro, has not had requests either, though he noted that many of the components he uses are raw, such as shaved fennel and celery root or marinated.

When asked for his take on the Living Food Movement and whether he had seen any evidence of it in Charlotte, Sean Minihan, executive chef of Bistro 100, remarked, "I've been hearing about it, but not in the restaurant setting. Now that the Food Network is on TV (in Charlotte), maybe more people will be aware. But we haven't had any requests for raw food. We're excited about it as far as the trends go because of the nutritional value of raw foods. We break our necks to get the fresh stuff, not just at the farmers' market, but with purveyors. It will become clearer (to diners) who has and does not have the fresh produce. This is a good thing for us."

Do you have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant which has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? You can fax this information, at least 12 days in advance of event date, to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. *

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